Nearly at the end of my rope with Apologia Biology…

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  • dorasaint

    Hello… My dd (15) is studying biology with Apologia. She is an intelligent girl, but is struggling mightily with this book. She is only on Module 6, and I’m feeling the pressure, as she should be two chapters further along (to finish by the end of the “school year”). She hasn’t done very well thus far, even though I’ve allowed her to take all tests open book/open note. My plan was to wean her from taking open-book tests this semester, but I don’t think she can handle it.

    For Module 6, I’ve begun sitting with her to read a section each day, outlining the chapter and attempting to answer study guide questions as we go. I’ve found online videos and flashcards to help, and I’ve worked with her so that she can use clues in On Your Own questions (for instance) to help her find the answers and increase her level of understanding.

    Perhaps I’ve been too easy on her in these past few years. I had thought my standards were fairly high, but I’m having doubts.

    Should I switch (!) to another textbook? I’ve read that Abeka is more straightforward. She is in high school now, and would like to attend college. I’m trying not to panic.

    I would appreciate any suggestions you might have. Thank you and God bless you all.


    I’m not sure that other college prep level courses would be any better.  You can certainly get less information/material in a course–but that’d be shooting yourself in the foot if she wants college.  She can work and struggle now, with you to help and support her and the time to be more flexible—OR she can take an easier road and feel this way, times ten, when she hits her first lab science course freshman year.  And you won’t be there.  And the teacher won’t be terribly interested in why she needs to take more time.

    I think you’d be better off moving slowly, but getting the material down.  This is an excellent time to really focus on reading for information vs. reading for pleasure.  On prereading, fast reading, reading for detail.  On how to identify main ideas.  How to memorize dozens of vocabulary words.  How to really, really take notes and then, how to use them once you have taken them.  How to prepare for a test and how to take one.  Do you remember this yourself, or do you need a book recommendation for her?

    You’d be better off taking two years and understanding biology, how to study, and how to learn in information-dense courses, and only getting in one or two lab sciences, than to emerge with several but very superficial courses.

    Do consider taking time to add in material that can help her understand concepts and retain information.  She isn’t doing that.  She needs to learn how.  It may be you need to back up and cover earlier modules better, too.   It’d be better to do that at home than at the student help center at college while she’s taking 15 hours.  IF videos help her, use them.  If she needs to make up silly stories, do it.  If she needs to set her vocab words to music–do it.  

    Some sources to use to help:

    Khan Academy 

    There’s another one on DVD that I can’t find right now and I have to run.  I’ll try to find the site and title.

    I have a very unpopular opinion here and I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear 100 ways I’m wrong and decide not to listen to me.  I”m used to it.  But I”ve also sent kids to college and counseled kids at college and I hate like anything to see kids realize they are in over their heads and drop out and have trouble and be miserable.  It’s Do Hard Things time.  It can be hard now or harder later.  



    Agreeing with Bookworm, whole heartedly. It’s now or later if college is on the horizon. However, I know it’s a jump to these types of courses so use whatever tools needed to get it.

    I don’t have a suggestion on other biology resources, but as someone with homeschooled kids at competitive colleges, I totally agree with Bookworm’s wisdom on NOW being the time to learn these skills. My kids reaped the benefits in the areas where they did that…and paid the price for those areas where I “lightened the load” in the wrong way.


    Unfortunately, my dd is in the same boat.  I realize now, that she doesn’t have those skill, either.  I did fine in high school and college but I honestly don’t remember how I learned note- and test-taking skills so I really don’t know how to go about teaching them to her.  

    Bookworm, I would love to have some suggestions for books for teaching how to study, take notes, etc. as you were describing.  Thanks in advance!


    OK.  The book I like has a very nonCM title.  BUT what you want is good study skills.  Now, a nice benefit of good study skills is grades.  Some people may not want their high schoolers to know how important grades are later, but we really like this book.  It’s especially good for science classes, actually.  If one really does what he recommends to prepare for a science exam, it is really hard to see how someone wouldn’t do well!

    Anyway, the book is How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport.  Interestingly, after I made all my kids read and use it, my oldest went to a “succeed in college” one credit class his first semester and they recommended—this same book and used it as their text.  It SOUNDS like a grades-are-everything  book.  It really is not.  It really is a primer for how to absorb and learn as efficiently as possible while RETAINING so that you can also have a life.  🙂 

    Also, there is this online document:

    Also, it is SO IMPORTANT to have the STUDENT learn and use these techniques.  If you “help” your child outline a chapter, he will get as much out of it as he would his dinner if you “helped” him eat it.  🙂  Put the monkey on your CHILD.  “You are not understanding this information well enough to make practical use of it.  What do you think is wrong?  What do you think you can do to learn these vocabulary words?”  A LOT of problems using a text like Apologia is the student does not 1) learn the language of science–all those words have a very, very precise meaning.   It’s like a foreign language.  Some words have a different meaning than in regular life.  If you don’t know those words, it won’t make any sense. 2) The other language is math.  I really appreciate high school math curricula like MathUSee that make a point of doing problems from the sciences the kids will be working on.  Science at this level is ALL about precision, in math and in words.  


    Michele, thank you for sharing. I read the article and have forwared it to dd12 to work through. I will also look for the book to keep as a reference. Christie


    Thank you Bookworm. I appreciate your strong opinions and I agree with them and with your approach. Thank you Miss CeeGee and Mysterious Lady for seconding her thoughts and for sharing your experiences.

    I have let this situation beat me up a bit, and I’m afraid I was losing the will to push through. I know my dd needs to take the initiative and that it is far better for her to do this now.

    Bookworm… I have Cal Newport’s book! I ordered it a few months ago, and I haven’t even read it yet! (I found his blog to be so informative and useful.) I can’t believe I had forgotten about the whole thing.

    I will check out the website link and read, think and pray on these things tonight. I might have her back up a module (or two) and start fresh, using some of these suggestions. Even if she stays with Module 6, we will make a change. I do want her to understand the material and work toward success.

    Thank you, ladies! You have lifted my spirits!


    Ladies, this question is for those who have been using charlotte mason methods for years. First let me say, I have been homeschooling for 13 years and have graduated one child. In the past I have used an eclectic approach, but have really come to believe, for many reasons I won’t get into now, that the charlotte mason method is the way to go. Now having 2 of my children struggle with Apologia science I was not encouraged after reading this thread. The question that I have and don’t understand about high school science, and in particular Apologia and the charlotte mason method is two pronged. First, I have really been reading about cm methods and although she states she uses some textbooks, i just can’t see Apologia being truly Charlotte mason. Yes, it is more conversational than some, but it is still a textbook. Somewhere in her writings ,although I can’t point out exactly where, she said not to narrate textbooks. And my understanding is narration is foundational to a Charlotte mason education. My next question, which is the one that concerns me most, has to do with CM methods being being used from the beginning and whether or not her methods are preparing kids for this high school science that so many just don’t seem to be prepared for. My frustration with the high school curriculum and my own children’s struggles is what has moved me toward charlotte mason. I have read many charlotte mason forums and conversations about frustration with high school science and particularly Apologia so I know this is not an isolated event. It seems to me the goal is learning. I realize that colleges have their requirements and classes are structured exactly opposite of Charlotte mason methods, but it seems to me if they really aren’t learning it and understanding it, you would not want to use it. I could teach my kids how to pass the test, but that shouldn’t be the goal. So, with all that said, does CM methods, implemented for years, prepare kids for high school science, in particular Apologia? If not, and there seems to be many CM’ers who have struggled with this, what is the answer? I have younger children that I plan on using cm methods with, and if it doesn’t prepare them for high school science, I want to know before I start school with them so I can figure out a different plan. Thanks, for listening and I look forward to your responses.

    Doug Smith

    i just can’t see Apologia being truly Charlotte mason. Yes, it is more conversational than some, but it is still a textbook.

    From our blog series on CM Myths: CM Myth #3: Charlotte Mason Did Not Use Any Textbooks.


    OK.  I’m going out on a limb here, too.  CM methods work.  They really do.  But . . . YOU HAVE TO ACTUALLY USE THEM.  Many of us are giving our kids “easy passes.”  We seem to be under the impression that kids are getting everything they need while we don’t do much actual WORK.  We seem to have gotten a very off impression that CM means “easy, effortless and painless.”  We think CM methods mean we only really have to read nice stories and we are DONE.  Real labor?  Real effort?  “Not CM.”  How we can possibly have gotten this idea is far beyond me.  The point of CM methods is TO DO VERY HARD WORK WHILE MAKING IT AS PLEASANT TO THE CHILD AS POSSIBLE.  “Real” CM methods are NOT effortless!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Just reading the essay test answers in some of the Original Series should disabuse us of this.  Real narration is HARD WORK.  Really getting at meaning and understanding, understanding to the point of being able to really explain it to someone else, is very difficult!!!  We are talking serious brain workout here.  Many of us do not really expect the very best out of our children here.  Our kids don’t really like narrating, at least the part that involves hard work, so they skim along the surface, we accept it, and go on.  Only to find that at age 15 they are really good at reading pleasant stories, but because we have the impression that CM is not really WORK, they don’t really understand HOW to work intellectually.  There IS a jump when learning information-dense texts.  It is very much like learning a foreign language.   What prepares your kids to learn? Tough narrations.  Lots of foreign language work.  ESPECIALLY LATIN.  If you can learn Latin, you can learn biology.  Just saying.  My kids have already gone through “culture shock” in realizing that they aren’t going to be allowed to coast forever, when I introduce Latin.  🙂  Charlotte’s kids LEARNED LATIN.  They really worked!  It was NOT all tea parties and drawing wildflowers (although those things are nice!)  When you do science in earlier years—I don’t memorize tons of vocab.  But I DO make them work.  My kids have to memorize and learn dozens of species of trees, butterflies, birds.  I expect them to learn to identify clouds.  They need to be able to tell me exactly what happens during a butterfly’s life cycle.  They know this because they have made a great number of observations over time.  They LIVE it, they get to KNOW these species, we take careful note.  Which trees lose their leaves first?  What birds are still here?  What bird is that, singing now?  Frogs?  What frog can we hear tonight?  How many birds are in that flock?  I expect complete attention and effort while they are learning.  I expect serious effort in observation.  I don’t accept barebones, drab, weak narration.  We memorize foreign language vocab and grammar.  We diagram sentences.  We parse.  (CM also used these methods!)  We learn 3 languages by graduation.  You can learn a language in two ways (or at least use some combo of these two ways.)  One is immersion.  But immersion takes TIME.  It can’t happen in twenty minutes three times a week.  Maybe if you had 10 hours a day.  😉  So most of us also need to learn.  OK, let’s say the bad word–to MEMORIZE.  Do our kids start memorizing poetry and scripture at early ages?  Do they continue with longer and longer passages, more and more languages?   THIS IS CM.  Can a child read a science passage and identify what is most important and what is most necessary to know?  THIS IS CM.  Can a child easily read and write Latin?  THIS IS CM.  Do your children recite poetry in Latin, in Spanish, in French?  THIS IS CM.  Do your children regularly read (and are expected to be able to ferret out) passages in Shakespeare, in Plutarch?  (I had one kid comment, when I asked if their Apologia text was going OK, that it was much easier to read and understand than Plutarch!)  Can your twelve year old read and figure out a passage of Plutarch!  THIS IS CM.  Can your children take the mental acuity developed over eight years of serious work to tackle their biology text, with just a few added skills?  THIS, TOO, IS CM.  Charlotte Mason’s methods ARE joyful and delightful.  But NOT because they are easy.  They are delightful because, if you do the work, you get the incredible gift of knowledge and mental capacity.  You can KNOW.  But you have to do the work!  There is no easy path, no shortcut.  It’s all work.  The insight of CM is that there can be joy IN the work.  Not in the absence of it (that is only momentary pleasure.)  When your child takes joy in doing what he OUGHT?   THAT IS CM.


    Amen…and amen. One of the most damaging (to our children) myths of a CM education is that it is “gentle.” Which we take to mean easy, warm, fuzzy. A true CM education is rigorous and hard. But it is not drudgery. If done correctly, it is living. I have several CM moms in my library who are stuck on the high school science problem and they want me to hand them sweet story books for physics and then assure them they will be OK in college. There are “living” books at the high school level on these topics but they do not make a college prep science course. Use them, yes. They can be a great supplement. Get as much real-life experience as you can but don’t be afraid to put children through the paces of “doin’ the hard thang” as I’m known to say over and over to my boys.

    Karen Smith

    “So, with all that said, does CM methods, implemented for years, prepare kids for high school science, in particular Apologia? “

    The easy answer is yes. The hard answer is the parent must direct the study of science to ensure that her children are exposed to a wide variety of science topics in the elementary years through consistent nature study and consistent reading of living books.

    I talk with many moms at conventions, and read on this forum quite frequently, that science/nature study is one of the first things to get cut from the schedule when the school day is getting long. It is usually the easiest thing to drop from the schedule because 1) many moms are not “sciencey”, 2) nature study takes more effort because it usually means packing up all of the kids and leaving the house, and 3) many moms don’t understand the importance of studying science.

    Personally, I did not use any formal science courses for the elementary years, only living books and nature study. My children were well prepared for Apologia’s high school level courses and had no problem understanding them. Beyond science, the Charlotte Mason method prepared my children well for reading college level textbooks on other topics and other non-living informational books because they had learned how to read attentively.


    Hi alfordland,

    My take on “does CM really prep our kids for HS science, college, etc” is this-

    CM preps my kids for life, not necessarily specific tasks, but we can use CM principles and teach the tasks our kids need today. The college system as it exsists today, computers, etc etc etc did not exsist so there is no way CM could have taught these things, but I can if I think it through and make it part of my plan.

    How to study, how to take a test, how computers function, etc etc etc  are all finite bodies of information, with specific skills that can be learned. CM principles ignight a love of learning and teach  a child how to think and provide a broad foundation for future learning. Just like Grammar is a finite body of information that can be taught, so can test taking skills, study skills, computer skills, etc. You just have to know and make it part of your plan.




    I forgot to add this earlier—I think 8 years of “I am, I can, I ought, I will” to pretty much be sufficient preparation for ANYTHING, from Apologia biology, to new motherhood,  to Marine boot camp, if it is LIVED CONSISTENTLY.  But that is the key.  CM isn’t magical learning fairy dust.  🙂  It is a set of tools that works with a child’s mind, that makes the heavy lifting easier, but that does NOT eliminate work.

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